Connecticut auto mechanics told the I-Team they are concerned over a recent rash of rust and they blamed the need for so many rust-related repairs on the way cities and towns in the state treat the roads during winter storms.
The I-Team heard it at the Vernon Collision Center where they said, "everything just seems to rust. Five or six years ago, we didn't do nearly as many brake lines as we're doing now."
It was the same story at the Canton Gulf, where the I-Team heard, "I've been here 35 years and in the last three or four years we've done more brake lines than I have in the first 30 years."
Expert Auto in Torrington sees it in the strut suspension components and brake lines, and at D'Addario's Auto Service in East Hartford they see "(Cars) just rusting apart, corroding, and just being eaten away."
The I-Team wanted to know why mechanics all over the state said cars are rusting and rotting away faster than ever. The experts all had the same answer.
The mechanic at D'Addario's Auto Service summed it up: "the change of the chemicals with what they're using is just eating them away underneath."
Seven winters ago, the state switched from the traditional sand and salt mixture to what's called a salt priority.
"That is where you no longer use sand, and you use 100 percent salt and you enhance the effectiveness of that salt with magnesium chloride or some other chloride," explained Kevin Nursick, who is the spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
State officials said the salt plus magnesium chloride has been a big success at treating the roads because it melts ice at very low temperatures where plain salt alone does nothing. It also saves lots of time and money because they don't have to sweep up tons and tons of leftover sand every spring.
Nursick said they weighed the switch carefully.
"We were basically the last winter-weather state in the country to switch over to what's called a salt priority," Nursick said
However, mechanics told Eyewitness News the "improvement" during winter storms is costing drivers big bucks to repair rust. The worst issue is with brake lines. What used to be a rare repair at Canton Village Gulf is now routine as people come in with brake pedals that go right to the floor.
"We get two and three cars in a week sometime that will come in, and the brake pedal goes to the floor," said Dan Carcio, the owner of the Canton Village Gulf.
The I-Team told Nursick that the station talked to mechanics all over the state and all specifically blamed this switch. The I-Team wanted to know if he was thinking they're wrong.
"I don't know exactly what they're looking at, et cetera, I can't speak for individual vehicles," Nursick said. "But we're not seeing a significant difference in corrosion with these materials versus the old protocols."
But no one keeps data on what repair shops are doing, so the state bases that claim on their own fleet of trucks still lasting an average of 9 to 10 years like they did before and on their inspection of bridges, which are made of metal components and get soaked with these treatments and are standing up OK.
Plus the DOT said going back to the old treatments would mean compromising safety and the majority of Connecticut's 169 cities and towns have switched to salt priority too. So has New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
"The old protocols, the old materials that we used were corrosive. We received complaints about corrosion," Nursick continued. "The new materials that we use are corrosive and we've received complaints about corrosion."
The argument is that everything is corrosive, but results are dramatically different. The I-Team found that Colorado switched to a similar mixture in 1996. The previous winter Interstate 70 in the Rockies had to be closed 46 times during bad storms when treated with only sand and salt. After the switch to salt priority the next year, it stayed open continuously all winter long. The performance results are similar to what Connecticut's seeing.
Nursick explained, "We are no different from basically every other winter weather state now and we're happy with the results."
But the I-Team uncovered a two part Colorado study that found the magnesium chloride is more corrosive to metal under wet conditions. The study led Colorado to add a rust inhibitor to the mix they're using. They've been doing for a decade.
So the I-Team wanted to know why doesn't Connecticut do the same?
Nursick says they've experimented with corrosion inhibitors but stopped using them because there was little evidence they helped and he says they're worse for the environment than the salt priority alone.
But the I-Team found that's not stopping states like Colorado and Minnesota that use them every storm.
And when the I-Team looked at the other states in New England, the station found a line on the Maine Department of Transportation website where they boast of adding corrosion inhibitor to protect vehicles. They even brag that they pay an extra $0.40 per gallon of solution just to add it.
But Nursick told the I-Team that rust prevention is really the car owner's responsibility.
"What we have always advised folks, whether it was 20 years ago or today, is that they use some basic maintenance principles with their vehicles during winter weather," Nursick said.
Both the DOT and the mechanics the I-Team talked to, recommended washing the underside of your car any time it's driven in winter weather. That means either climbing under the car with the hose or going through a carwash that offers an undercarriage wash.
At D'Addario's they summed it up, "People keep the outside of their cars clean and their interiors cleaned up. But they never get to see from underneath the car. We put the car on a lift and when it's bad enough we'll bring the customers out and we'll point out the issues and, and some are shocked. Some are afraid to drive their cars away."
There's never been a direct link between a crash and rust or rot due to these treatments, but the message from mechanics is clear: unless people get a lot better about washing the underside of their cars after every single storm, there will be more trouble and it'll have nothing to do with slippery roads.
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